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UAS Summit kicks off in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS — Hundreds of members of the unmanned aircraft systems industry have landed in Grand Forks for the 8th annual UAS Action Summit.

This year’s summit, organized by the Red River Valley Research Corridor, is expected to draw between 350 and 400 exhibitors to the Alerus Center today and Thursday. Attendees will be touting new UAS technology in the form of software, sensors and aircraft frames.

In addition to the exhibits, attendees will be able to listen to a number of presentations including potential uses for UAS, updates on local unmanned aircraft use and a look at the future of the industry.

That future looks bright in North Dakota, one of six states to be designated as a UAS test site by the Federal Aviation Administration and the first to be up and running.

And the state is not done yet, according to Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who is chairman of the test site’s governing board.

“We’re in the middle of a long series of milestones,” he said at a media briefing Tuesday.


Summit activities kicked off Tuesday with a flight demonstration and speeches from Wrigley and others involved in the industry at local and national levels.

Members of the Grand Forks Police Department and the University of North Dakota’s unmanned aircraft program ran a small quadcopter called a Draganflyer X4ES through two scenarios law enforcement may encounter.

The first had the Draganflyer hovering over the scene of a mock car accident inside the Alerus Center’s arena. The aircraft’s video feed was displayed on a TV for a crowd of onlookers.

The overhead view allows officer to view details that may be harder to see from ground level such as the location and length of skid marks, said Cpl. Tim Schuh.

In the second scenario, the aircraft was dispatched to investigate a car in an attempt to determine whether the driver was armed with a knife or another weapon.

The aircraft continued to monitor the suspect and vehicle until a police unit arrived on scene.

High praise

Before the demonstration, officials discussed North Dakota’s progress in the industry.

When it comes to the state’s test site, director Bob Becklund can sum it up simply.

“So far, so good,” he said.

One challenge Becklund said he hopes to overcome is to get funding outside of state money for test site research.

Making his fifth appearance at the summit was Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International — a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing unmanned systems.

He praised the state’s “can do” attitude, saying that sets North Dakota apart from other places and has contributed to its success in becoming a UAS industry leader.

“You should have a bumper sticker — if you don’t have one already — that says ‘I live in North Dakota. We can do anything,’” Toscano said.